Source: HISTORICAL FICTION CONNECTION: Judith Barrow’s Living in the Shadows – Guest Post

Judith Barrow’s Living in the Shadows – Guest Post

Marital violence is as old as marriage itself. Wife beating was both widely tolerated and sanctioned by law in 18th-century England; husbands were legally entitled to strike their wives in order to ‘correct’ their conduct. So-called moderation was the watchword with one judge, Francis Buller, specifying that a husband could beat his wife with a stick so long as it was no thicker than his thumb.

Later, English law allowed women to separate from their husbands because of abuse, but did not let them get

divorced. Husbands were still allowed to abuse their spouses as long as it could not be seen. This meant abuse on the back, where clothing would cover wounds caused by abuse.

It was not until the late 1800s that men were not permitted to chastise or abuse their spouses under any circumstances, according to law.

According to law– yet it still continued

In the early to mid-twentieth century domestic violence was still viewed by some men as their right and by some women with resigned acceptance.

The following short passage is from the first book of my trilogy, Pattern of Shadows. This conversation between the protagonist, Mary Howarth, and her mother, Winifred, portrays, I think, the attitude that prevailed in the 1940s.

Just another domestic.’


“’What is it, Mam, aren’t you feeling well?’

Her mother didn’t answer. She pushed the small pile of dust and bits of vegetable peelings onto a piece of newspaper on the floor and crushed it up, tossing it into a bucket under the sink. Straightening she moaned softly under her breath, holding her side.

Mary put an arm around her. Seeing the ugly swelling on her mother’s cheek and the red-rimmed eyes she scowled. ‘Aw, Mam, not again, what was it this time?’

Winifred pushed her daughter away and turned on the tap to rinse her hands. ‘There was only me here and he had one of his moods on him. It’s Patrick really, as if we haven’t enough to worry about. He’ll have the police at the door, with all this trouble: picketing, striking, fighting the government. Your father says there’s a right way and a wrong way to tackle the bosses and your brother’s going about it all wrong.’ She wiped her hands on a piece of towelling. ‘He’s furious because it’s unofficial. You know what he’s like.’

Like a bully and a bastard. Mary gritted her teeth, holding back the words. ‘Why were you holding your side?’

‘I banged into the table when …’

‘When he hit you.’

Winifred glowered defensively at Mary. ‘It’s not his fault.’

‘Of course it’s his bloody fault. You can’t keep putting up with it, Mam.’

‘What can I do? Tell the police? ’ Winifred gave a short ironic laugh. ‘Sergeant Sykes is as bad. His wife often sports a black eye.’” END QUOTE

“It’s a private, family matter.”

From the middle of the 1900s there came more reforms for women. But it was still the era of the captive wife, when most women were housebound housewives kept by a man, completely under the thumb of their husbands, whatever their class.  And no one ever talked about domestic violence; it was as if it never happened.

After World War II, studies linked growing up in an abusive home with the likelihood of criminal behaviour later in life. Most domestic batterers showed a consistent pattern of violence and manipulation for the purpose of power and control. Domestic violence was acknowledged, but treated as a private family matter.